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You've broken down the script, detailed the characters, written, thrown out, and rewritten the script. It's time to cast your film. This next step can be one of the most enjoyable and agonizing part of pre-production. You'll finally see a portion if your vision materialized in the real world as a characters take life. Conversely, you'll need to inform some actors that they will not be appearing in your production. We'll help you to make sure you've chosen the best talent you can, and, hopefully, set you up for a smoother shoot in the process.
Before you invite anyone to audition, you'll want to pre-qualify your talent. Are you looking to cast a male or female? Someone in their 30s or their 70s? A fair amount people who will want to audition won't fit the role you're looking to fill and there's nothing you or they can do about it. So where do you find great potential stars?
First and foremost, consider approaching actors with whom you've worked with before. Famous directors like Martin Scorsese and Christopher Nolan are known for working with the same actors across several films. They do this because they have a good working relationship on set and have reliable work ethics. If you've directed an actor in the past that's worked out well, and you think that person would be a good fit for your current project, they should be on the top of your list of audition invitations.
If you've never directed actors in the past, or don't already have a list of possible candidates, local theater companies are a great starting point. If it's a smaller theater group, they'll likely jump at the opportunity to get in front of a camera. Call the group and ask if they have any actors that would be interested in working on a project like yours. Often you will be forwarded to someone who is willing to talk with you about who they have that might be a good fit. Be proactive and ask how you can get a hold of these people directly. At this point, you don't want to offer invitations to audition sight unseen, but ask those interested to provide you with a resume and headshot. It's worth noting that some larger theater companies, like those in larger cities, may not have time to give you names and phone numbers of everyone you'd like to hear from. If this is the case, you may need to scout them yourself and approach them or their agent, if they have one.
If you're not comfortable with the number of candidates you have so far, your next step should be to turn to the internet. Sites Mandy.com or ActorsAccess.com are read by actors who are more experienced with the audition process, while classified sites like Craigslist will give you access to talent that is less experienced and may be willing to work for little or no money.
Whatever route you chose, make sure you ask actors to send you their resume and headshot. As you comb through them, start with the headshots. Likely you'll eliminate half or more of the actors that want to audition for simply not having the right look. Do not be surprised when you have men sending you their headshots for female roles, or 20 somethings sending you headshots for senior citizen roles. Don't rule out actors with the wrong hair color or style, or facial hair. These can be easily changed, and their abilities as an actor may be worth the extra time it takes to make the change.
Once you've pared your talent pool down to those with the right look, consider the resume. Actor's resumes look quite a bit different than a more traditional, professional resume; often consisting only of their contact information and a list of productions they've worked on and the role they played. Take both the amount of experience the actor has, as well as the quality into consideration. Lead roles are obviously more impressive than supporting roles, and supporting roles will be more impressive than background extra roles.
At this point, you may have a good idea of who you'd like to cast, but realize that many actors' resumes and headshots don't do them justice. Set a day to hold auditions and send the invitations to more actors than you'd like to have show up, as not everyone will. Try to schedule actors to audition in fifteen minute increments so that they don't get restless waiting for dozens of people before them to finish.
On the day of the auditions, you'll want to have a few things in place, and, ideally, a few extra hands to help. Since you scheduled your actors to come in fifteen minutes apart, hopefully no one will be left waiting, but just in case, have a room set up near by for actors waiting to audition. It's good to offer snacks and someone to give them instructions or help read through scenes as practice.
Set up a well-lit room with enough chairs for your team and the actor. If you can, try to take video of each audition to have available for reference later. Finally, if the actor is going to be reading dialogue with another character, you'll want to have another person in the room to read the other half of the dialogue. If you try to do it yourself you'll find you're unable to give the actor the attention they deserve.
After auditioning your actors, you probably have a few that would work for each role you're casting. It's time to narrow down your candidates with callback auditions. A callback is an audition where you invite select actors back to audition with finalists from other roles. Select a scene where two actors perform opposite each other. As you have the actors read, note the chemistry between them. Some actors will perform well on their own, but stumble when working with others. Conversely, actors with somewhat flat performances alone may shine when acting opposite the right person. We recommend bringing actors back for as many callbacks as you feel necessary to feel comfortable making a decision.
Now comes the hard part. You need to make a decision about who your stars will be. As a courtesy, you should call everyone you've auditioned to inform them as to whether or not they've made the cut. Be respectful, as your first choice may back out and you may end up casting someone you've only recently rejected.
Congratulations! Your production has taken life! Your story is leaking from the page into the real world! If you've followed these tips closely, you'll be nicely set up with a strong cast and good relationships with your local talent pool. Now it's time to take the next step in bringing your vision to life.